In Real Life

What does the great reopening have in store for salespeople?

You might be thinking where I am. Or maybe not. But you may have noticed that there was no newsletter last Thursday. You see, I was busy meeting people in Boston. Not over Zoom, not on a call, not messaging each other in Slack. I was meeting people in real life. 

It felt great to talk, smile, and laugh with people in the same room. Folks were sharing stories. Most were seeing each other for the first time in over a year. For those that came onboard like myself during COVID, it meant meeting colleagues in person for the very first time. From that outside deck on the Seaport overlooking the buildings across the canal, I felt alive.

One of the things that the pandemic showed us is that we can be resilient. Being isolated was tough for many, but we mostly got through the pandemic intact. We managed through the annoying bits like speaking while on mute during video calls, solving audio issues, dealing with spotty Wi-Fi, and patiently surviving the awkwardness of home life noises distracting our work.

Even if you are an introvert, the extended period of not physically connecting with others, whether co-workers, family or friends, twisted our emotional balance. There is something magical about proximity that Zoom happy hours, virtual cooking classes, and chats over Clubhouse can never replace.

The following day, I arranged a meetup with Boston tech founders. It was an intimate group of eight circled around a table at a brewery. Their only connection to this get together was knowing me, some for over a decade. So they all got to meet and chat and exchange contact info as folks started leaving for the evening back to their homes or other evening activities.

I decided to head out to dinner with one of my AWS colleagues and a few stragglers that wanted to talk shop. This led to an adventure of dive bars near Chinatown, a fancy French restaurant where we enjoyed some outstanding wines, and then ending the night at a hotel club with a DJ pumping out house tunes. It felt like living an entire year in the span from dusk till dawn.

The drive back was slow. Slow because I definitely drank too much and slow because traffic is back. It is one of the inevitabilities of life opening up again. People are traveling and roads get clogged. During these extended bouts of stop and go slowdowns along the Merritt Parkway, I got to thinking about what sales looks like in the post-COVID world. Also I thought about the great lobster rolls I had.

For the most part, we proved sales can happen in a completely virtual world. If doctors can do patient visits virtually, to sell remotely is not a heavy lift. Some adapted better than others. For inside sales reps, it was business as usual. For field reps, it was an entirely different story.

The value of salespeople in B2B selling is in the ability to build trust, credibility, and rapport with prospects. That is not something that can be simply replaced by AI bots or product-led growth strategies. In my work at AWS and in this Enterprise Sales Forum community, I meet a lot of founders that tell me they would love to replace salespeople. Then they come back months later saying they desperately need salespeople. Then they come to realize the essential truth of B2B sales, without a sales team, revenue generation will always be a struggle.

During COVID, the sales strategy was to dial up the outbound outreach. A lot of the automated emails ended up getting deleted or going straight to spam. The LinkedIn messages got ignored. Ironically, the phone ended up being the best channel to connect with buyers. Successful connections ended up resulting in some video calls. Most of these calls ended up as dead ends.

Many assumed that remote selling would be easier. There is a friction to meeting in person. It involves traveling to some location, time wasted gathering people in one place, configuring remote connectivity for those not local, and then engaging in all the typical meeting theater. Instead of all the excess energy wasted and the expense it entailed, salespeople could book back-to-back Zoom calls from 8 AM to 6 PM every day. Right?

What we missed in this equation was rapport. It can be easy to dismiss the small talk that happens before and after sales meetings. Those outside of sales could easily miss the value of the conversation between the reception hall and the conference room or the quick chat by the table with coffee, tea, and mediocre pastries. In fact, those were critical points of connecting and bonding.

There is also a spark that comes with those real life interactions. Not all interactions turn out well. There are plenty of war stories I have heard over the years of sellers being escorted from buildings unceremoniously. For the most part though, much of the art of selling is in those moments where you can relate not as buyer and seller, but as people.

So how does field selling and complex B2B sales evolve? I think a lot of the travel we used to do will be off the table. Companies are going to move to hybrid office operations. This means some employees will opt to work out of “third offices”, like coworking offices. Others will shift to being mostly work from home. In this scenario, many meetings will continue to be virtual, but there may be opportunities to meet one-on-one near WFH or third office locations.

Meetings of any significance will still happen in person, but some participants will continue to be remote. Luckily getting them connected will be a bit easier now that technology is a bit more reliable. For sales reps, you will need to be aware of not only the people in the room, but the folks that are dialing in, some of whom could be key decision makers.

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One of the big trends this past year has been the idea of community. We are a social species and will always find reasons to gather. This will accelerate as the reopening progresses as in person meetups start happening more regularly. This is an opportunity for sellers to connect with buyers, whether you join existing communities or form your own. You can bypass the fatigue experienced by buyers from a year of incessant email and cold call prospecting by finding events and communities where you can genuinely connect.

I also see that sales technology will enter a fourth age of evolution. I will talk about that next week as it is a big topic and will impact how we go about our jobs as sales professionals. But for now, I hope you are able to meet people in person and to experience the fullness of life again!

P.S. If you want to get together and you are in the NYC or Boston or DC areas, it would be great to see you!

Mark Birch, Founder of Enterprise Sales Forum

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The Enterprise Sales Forum is a professional community championing the practice of sales through monthly sales talks at chapters globally. Our chapters provide an open, collaborative and diverse environment to share new ideas, network and learn actionable insights for professional sales development.